It seems like the daily news regularly reports that some jihadi somewhere blows himself/herself up killing countless others in the name of God and their religion. People talk about holy war as if war could possibly be holy. People piously say, “It must have been God’s will.” Others think, “This is crazy nonsense.” Which is it?
Religious extremism is not a new phenomenon. It unfortunately exists in all the great religions, not just Islam. There are many examples that can be cited throughout history. In the 66-70 C. E. Jewish-Roman War, the rebellious Jews slaughtered the Sadducees, fellow Jews they thought were being too friendly toward the Romans. Christians had “holy” crusades, burnt heretics at the stake and hung witches. Early Christian bishops supported slavery. All were confident they were preaching “God’s will.” Were they?
These same people presumed to be speaking for God. Unfortunate, modern-day examples would be James Jones of Jonestown, Guyana infamy who orchestrated the mass suicide of his 900 followers in 1978; and Vernon Howell, a.k.a. David Koresh, of Waco infamy who fired on A.T.F. agents leading to the death of 79 of his cult members. They too believed they were speaking for God; so did their followers. Others saw this as religious extremism and nonsense.
So the question arises: how does one know what is God’s will? What are the criteria for determining this? For the Christian, one has only to look at the life of Jesus. What comes to us from the Gospels is a Jesus who is loving, compassionate and merciful; a Jesus who heals, forgives and loves; a Jesus who reaches out to women, foreigners and heretics; not to condemn them but to show them the love of a God he calls Father.
To answer the question: “Is this from God; is this God’s will?” we have to apply this criteria: Is it loving?; is it compassionate?; is it merciful? Unless the answer is yes to all three, it is not God’s will. There is nothing loving, compassionate and merciful about blowing yourself and others up.
Arthur C. Donart, Ph. D.